One thing I can say about the late George Steinbrenner: he may have been wrong about a lot of things, but I think his constant hiring and firing of Billy Martin was actually a good, sound idea. Martin, who helped turn Steinbrenner’s Yankees into a championship team, was a great manager, particularly when it came to improving the performance of players; he almost always got a better season out of a team than they had before he joined, and many players had career-best years under him. But Martin was so intense and insane that no one could stand playing for him for more than a year, or two, tops. The players would revolt and the team would go downhill, and he’d have to be fired. Everyone fired Martin not long after he joined. The only difference with Steinbrenner is that he would wait a few years and then bring Martin back, to start over with players who were not yet ready to kill him. The way I think about it is this: Martin was really Steinbrenner’s regular manager from 1976 until his death. It’s just that he had to be relieved of his duties every few years because there was no way he could manage a team for several years continuously.
Bill James put it this way in one of his Baseball Abstracts:
What Steinbrenner has done with Martin in the eighties actually makes a whole lot of sense; it’s non-traditional, and in the sports world that means it’s going to be criticized, but it makes sense. Martin’s intensity and knowledge of the game make him a tremendous short-term asset to the organization; he can still do more to improve a baseball team overnight than anybody else in the world, including Don Mattingly and Roger Clemens. But his immaturity, his high-pressure tactics, and his mind games over time create so much resentment and hostility that he is a long-term detriment — indeed, he simply can’t manage a baseball team for longer than a couple of years, or he will self-destruct. It makes sense, I think, to bring him in, get the benefit of his abilities, and then put him in a cooler somewhere and let things quiet down a bit before you bring him back again.